The Von Trapps Revisited In Vermont, the hills are alive with folks still interested in the singing Austrian family

May 21, 1995|By GREG TASKER

STOWE, Vt. -- This woman sitting before us, leading an evening sing-along at a popular Vermont lodge, is part of a legend. Most of us -- baby boomers with children -- knew that as we enticed our families to join this makeshift choir.

Yet the woman's face and her soprano voice are unfamiliar.

She is slender, 60ish, with long gray hair pulled back, framing kind and almost cherubic features. She is dressed in a red-and-black checkered jumper and a white turtleneck. She speaks softly, a slight accent detectable, a lingering reminder of her Austrian childhood.

She was in a movie -- a story featuring seven children. But which was one she, exactly? The chatty, youngest daughter? Maybe she was the one who fell in love with the telegram boy? Or maybe she was one of the older children who helped their younger siblings along during that trek across the mountains to escape Nazi occupation.

Tapping a tambourine, and accompanied by a guitarist, Rosmarie von Trapp leads us through folk songs, pop standards and other tunes, seemingly unaware that we didn't come here to sing those songs. No, not at all.

We are aching to sing something like "The hills are alive . . . " but none of us is bold enough to suggest that song or another number from "The Sound of Music," the beloved 1965 movie that chronicles the singing von Trapp family.

Finally, someone dares: "Do-Re-Mi." Visions of Julie Andrews atop an Austrian mountaintop, playing a guitar and surrounded by singing children, are dancing in our heads like embers crackling over the burning logs in the fireplace before us.

Yes, the hills are still alive with the sound of music, even though three decades have passed since moviegoers first flocked to theaters to see the film version of the hit Broadway musical. And even though the von Trapps themselves have long been out of the public eye.

Fascination with the family has not waned. Their old home -- now a 93-room lodge and cross-country skiing resort in the verdant mountains of Vermont -- is a mecca for movie fans. These fans, young and old, make the pilgrimage to the Trapp Family Lodge to catch a glimpse of the children -- though they are no longer children -- or to dwell in what was once the home of a famous family, or to sing with Rosmarie.

"The place is like a religious shrine," says John Ferguson, a lodge employee who regularly fields questions about the family while setting afternoon tea and cookies in the cocktail lounge or serving Austrian beer to skiers at the end of the day.

"There's really an amazing curiosity about the Trapps and almost all of it comes from the movie," he says. "It's just unbelievable. Some people don't even believe they [are] real until they're here."

The von Trapps are real.

And their story -- at least as depicted in "The Sound of Music" -- is familiar to nearly everyone. In the movie, Maria, a young nun, leaves a convent to become governess of seven cute but unruly children. She brings love and music to the motherless brood and falls in love with their stern father, a retired naval captain and member of the Austrian aristocracy. The Nazis invade Austria, and the family -- fearful after the captain refuses to join the navy -- daringly escapes after a folk concert by hiking over the Alps to freedom. (In reality, the family departed Austria by train.)

"I consider the movie Hollywood's version of our story," says Eleonore, affectionately known as Lorli.

A more factual version would have included Rosmarie, Eleonore and Johannes, the three children of Baron von Trapp and Maria. Two of them were born before the family fled Austria and the other was on the way.

In all, there were 10 von Trapp children. The seven from the widowed baron's first marriage were loosely depicted in the movie. Their names were changed and their gender sequence were altered for Broadway and the movie.

"We were much older and grown up by the time we left Austria," recalls Agathe von Trapp, portrayed as 16-year-old Liesl in the movie, but who was actually in her mid-20s when the family left Austria. "The whole story of little children is nice, but that wasn't really us."

Six von Trapp sons and daughters are still alive. Agathe lives in the Baltimore area. Werner (called "Kurt" in the movie), Maria ("Louisa"), Rosmarie, Eleonore and Johannes live in the Stowe area, in northern Vermont, where the family settled in 1943, a few years after coming to America.

Three of the deceased -- Rupert ("Friedrich" in the movie), who became a doctor, married and had six children, Hedwig ("Brigitta"), Martina ("Gretl") -- are buried in the family cemetery behind the lodge, along with their father, who died in 1947, and Maria, who died in 1987 at the age of 82. Johanna ("Marta") returned to Austria after raising seven children, and died there in November 1994.

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